Infographic: The pluck of the Irish
Growing up, I remember a series of jokes that went along the lines of, “Did you hear about the latest Irish invention? (Insert seemingly ridiculous invention here, e.g. submarine with electric windows).” Looking back, it’s clear now that such jokes were born of stereotypes created by the history of the Emerald Isle, both colourful and sad in equal measure.
That being said, I was eight at the time and like most children, was ignorant of both the negative undertones of such stereotyping or the factors that lead to their becoming so widespread.
As an additional disclaimer, my family is made up of Irish, Scottish, English and other assorted backgrounds. Oddly, despite my Welsh name, the one thing we don’t have is any Welsh in our background. Go figure.
While not a conscious attempt to combat these stereotypes, the Irish hotel booking site, GoIreland.com have produced this beautiful infographic celebrating some of the great Irish contributions to our society. Now, while I disagree with the claim that the Irish invented the tank (few historians would claim any one person invented the tank, as the British, Americans, French, Germans, Austrians and Russians (as well as others) all had ‘land-ship’ designs at various stages leading up to World War I), the infographic certainly highlights some iconic inventions that define the industrial, atomic and information age world.
Much in a similar manner to this infographic, having pursued history (as a kid I once dreamed of being Indiana Jones) during High School and University, it was very instructive to see many of these popular misconceptions be shown to be absolute fallacies, or at the very least, any truth in them was completely out of context. For instance, the concept that the Irish were an uneducated people came from the fact that they were rather brutally oppressed both by foreign conquerors and by natural disasters.
Squeezed between English conquest and colonisation (followed by sectarian violence) as well as disasters like the famines of 1740 and the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s, the Irish had a pretty tough lot in life. It was from this background that things like the ‘Irish invention’ jokes and other such stereotypes were born, masking a far more complex history. It also suited the English mentality of the time that they were doing the world a favour by bringing (what they believed anyway) enlightenment to such people.
To get back to my original point, the fact is that despite everything that was thrown against them, the Irish were (and still are) some of the great inventors and entrepreneurs of our modern world. This is something reflected in the friends I’ve made since moving to Melbourne who are extremely well educated (and very entertaining!) Irish. While they are economic refugees in a similar vein to how Irish immigrating to the United States in the 19th century were refugees from the famine, they bring with them a spirit of hard work, backed by the technical knowhow to deliver on it.
So when you’re out having a pint of Guinness this St Patrick’s Day, remember that the Irish have contributed far more to our way of life than just alcoholic beverages, leprechauns and U2. Remember to also celebrating the many things that we now use to identify our own cultural place in the world for which we owe to the Irish. Whether they’ve invented them at home, or as a result of being displaced around the world thanks to the various Irish diasporas over the centuries, there’s plenty to celebrate about the Irish this St Patrick’s Day.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Telstra.